Monday, July 14, 2008

Bridge and poker: Two great games overlap

The North American Bridge Championships begin Thursday (July 17) in Las Vegas, just as the 2008 World Series of Poker is drawing to a close. The NABC will have a Daily Bulletin and I am a co-editor. In planning ahead, I began thinking about the fact that many of the top poker players began their card-playing careers as bridge players, and wondering if any of them will be playing bridge there.

Phil Gordon studies the board before deciding what to do.

Phil Gordon is a renaissance man. He plays poker, he plays bridge, he is a TV celebrity, he is a best-selling author --- he does it all. Phil Gordon's Little Green Book is probably the best known of his books. If you are a poker player, you probably know he has won a World Poker Tour event and has made the final table of the Main Event at the WSOP.

Gordon is active in charity work and is responsible for the "Put a Bad Beat on Cancer" initiative which has raised thousands of dollars to help prevent cancer. The Poker Enthusiast blogged about it here.

It is confirmed that Gordon is playing bridge in Las Vegas at the upcoming NABC. I wrote him and he has agreed to be interviewed for the NABC Daily Bulletin. I don't know much about Gordon's bridge except that he is a Bronze Life Master, but I'll obviously find out more in Las Vegas.

Steve Zolotow considers how much to bet.

Gordon has a tentative date to play at the NABC with Steve Zolotow. The "Bald Eagle," as Zolotow is known, is a professional poker player and a two-time bracelet winner who is frequently seen on TV in tournaments. He is one of the pros on Full Tilt Poker. Of all the poker pros listed on this page, Zolotow is probably the one with the most success at bridge (not sure who is second) --- he was fifth in the Reisinger B-a-M Teams in New Orleans in 2003, for example. He is a Silver Life Master at bridge with nearly 1800 masterpoints. I e-mailed Zolotow and he has also agreed to be interviewed.

I'm hoping Gordon and Zolotow do well at the bridge table. Wouldn't that make a compelling story? I'll get my MOJO working; that should do the trick (no pun intended). Even if they don't have great success, the feature stories should still be good because they are both interesting. When the interviews are completed, I'll post a link.

Mike Sexton, the "Ambassador of Poker" is another example of a bridge player turned poker player. He is the TV comentator on the World Poker Tour. Sexton has one WSOP bracelet which he won in 1989.

I've noticed he will frequently mention that "Player 'X' is a Life Master at bridge," when introducing a poker player on the World Poker Tour on TV. Sexton used to teach bridge and has around 200 masterpoints. He isn't an active bridge player any more (so is unlikely to be attending the NABC), but is still a dues-paid member of the American Contract Bridge League (called ACBL for short).

Bobby Baldwin is yet another example. He is a former winner of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker (1978) and has four bracelets. He was considered the best NL Hold 'em poker player in the world when he played regularly. He still plays, but is more concerned with his career as a casino executive -- he is president of the Bellagio. You may have heard of the "Big Game," held at the Belagio in "Bobby's Room." Guess who the room is named in honor of.

At bridge, Baldwin is a Bronze Life Master with more than 900 masterpoints. He doesn't have a web site that I could find, but you can read about him here.

Barry Greenstein is known as the "Robin Hood of Poker" because of his donations to charity. He has three bracelets at WSOP events and is author of the book Ace on the River.

At bridge, he is a Bronze Life Master with nearly 900 masterpoints. He doesn't play in ACBL tournaments anymore, but does play bridge online, "mostly late at night to relax," according to him. He was asked in an interview whether he enjoyed poker as much as bridge. He said, "I find bridge more challenging than poker. For me, poker is a job."

Bob Ciaffone is a highly-regarded author of poker books. I particularly enjoyed reading Pot-limit & No-limit Poker. He is also arguably the world's top authority on the rules of poker. He has done work to codify the laws and you can read about it at Robert's Rules of Order. In 1987 he finished third in the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, losing to Johnny Chan.

I interviewed Ciaffone in 2006 while doing an article for the Bridge Bulletin that examined whether the poker boom would help or hurt bridge. (Greenstein was also intereviewed for the same piece.) He had some interesting comments on the similarities of the two games. Ciaffone actively plays bridge and is a Silver Life Master with nearly 1800 masterpoints. He is also an expert at chess and backgammon. His web site is called The Poker Coach.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know there was such a big connection between the two games. Interesting.

    Hope you have a great time in Vegas! Good luck with your interviews. :)